Rick Niece*

University of the Ozarks

City: Clarksville
Category: Nonprofit Executive of the Year
Year: 2001

The winds of progress followed Rick Niece, president of University of the Ozarks, from Ohio to Clarksville in 1997.

Niece had been interim president of Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio. Since being named president of University of the Ozarks, he has raised more than $55 million to pay for renovating and constructing campus residential and academic buildings. All the money was raised before construction began, he said, allowing the private college to be debt-free.

Niece also has seen enrollment increase from 530 students in 1998 to 654 in 2001.

Also in 1998, the university set a five-year goal - it hoped to raise $55 million for scholarships, capital improvements and faculty and staff salaries by 2003. But by 2000, the goal was extended to $60 million. The university has currently collected $58 million, and still has more than a year to go.

When Niece arrived in 1997, the total endowment set aside for scholarships, capital improvements and other budget needs was roughly $28 million. In 2001, it was more than $70 million.

The university has been ranked as a top tier school by U.S. News and World Report for the last three years. It also was ranked by the magazine as the South's second-best value in college education, based on class size and tuition.

"We've done some great things here, and we really do make a difference," Niece said.

One way Niece monitors his students and their progress is by inviting them to his home. Niece has entertained more than 10,000 people at his presidential house, and most of them were students, he said.

Every year, he holds a week of dinners strictly for new freshmen, helping them become acquainted with the university. Niece also invites graduating seniors over to discuss how the college has made a difference in their lives.

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